2. The need for a focus on the formation of spiritual leadership for congregational ministry in the SA context
In the discourse about theological training the importance of a focus on the formation of the character of the student with a focus no congregational ministry is increasing. In 1999 Robert Banks wrote: “While most seminary teachers recognize that moral and spiritual formation begins at home and congregations, and continues in other contexts alongside seminaries, and develops afterwards in various ministry settings, there is a growing concern that it must be an intentional part of seminary training, both inside and outside the classroom.” (1999, 25)
The urgency of this matter for denominations, whose students are trained at universities, is emphasised in a recent study by Marilyn Naidoo about the spiritual formation of students. She comes to the following conclusion:
On the other end of the spectrum, the institutions with the highest scores (showing lower agreement with the spiritual formation) for all five factors were the Presbyterian and Reformed. Both denominations train in a university faculty and this formational mandate may clash with the focus of critical scholarship offered at universities. This finding highlights that a university setting presents more challenges in implementing a spiritual formational mandate. It would be difficult to seek to instil a specific habitus among theology students in a university classroom where similar ecclesial backgrounds or at least shared vocational trajectories cannot be assumed. The intention of spiritual formation may also be obscured by university accreditation demands, the compartmentalization of theological disciplines and the marginalization of spirituality in the life of the university.
(An empirical study on spiritual formation at Protestant theological training institutions in South Africa, to be published in Theology and Religion)
Western Seminary in Michigan USA responded to this need with a program called Formation for Ministry. URCSA’s own policy document of 1997 about theological training, states that the purpose of theological training “…(is) to shape and equip candidates spiritually, intellectually and practically for their service in the church of Jesus Christ”. (Acta 1997:718ff) In 2008 ministry formation is mentioned explicitly: “Ministerial formation, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God, shapes leaders within URCSA by equipping them spiritually, intellectually and practically to serve the coming of the Kingdom of God in Southern Africa”. (P 513 of Agenda) In the comprehensive work about theological training by Charles Foster et al, one of the distinctive challenges of clergy education is viewed as “The Pedagogy of Formation” (2006, pp100-127).
There is little doubt that the formation aspects of theological training should be at the heart of a vision for denominational ministerial formation. This will be the ongoing theme and goal in the recommendations in this memorandum.
3. The distinction between academic and denominational formation
The memorandum pleads that we retain both academic training and spiritual formation in an interdependent but creative tension with one another.
To understand this tension we need to clarify the difference in focus of academic training and denominational ministerial formation.
• The denominational ministerial formation of students mainly focuses on the formation of spiritual leadership within the context of congregational ministry. (The proposal is that this focus is executed by a URCSA and DRC Seminary or a School of Reformed Theology.)
• The academic training of the Faculty of Theology follows an encyclopaedic approach which offers student’s professional training in the various theological subjects (Faculty of Theology).
These two modes of training should be seen as complimentary. The academic training of the Faculty provides the “building blocks” for the formation of congregational ministers in the SA context and should be developed in synergy with the denominational formation. On the other hand the formation processes of the Seminary will contribute to enabling students to optimise their academic training. Ideally a student should simultaneously be enrolled at the Seminary for a “Diploma in Denominational Leadership Formation” and at the Faculty of Theology for academic qualifications (BTh and MDiv).
4. Denominational formation as a Journey
a. A formational journey with milestones:
Denominational training is the formation of spiritual leadership with a focus on congregational ministry. In this formation programme the student undertakes a “journey” with different milestones. These milestones or areas are interdependent. The journey is undertaken in a community of supportive relationships as described below. The programme will have to be measured according to the requirements of the various churches for Supplementary theological training, including for example the 100 hour directive of the URCSA:
Milestone 1: Vocational development plan
1. Personal maturity and emotional intelligence: In the first year students complete a series of psychometric tests to improve their insight into their personal composition and to identify areas which can be developed. These insights will then be taken into formational, and if needed, therapeutic processes to build the students capacity for personal growth and enhanced emotional intelligence.
2. Vocational formation: In their first year Students participate in a Vocation Retreat with the aim of helping them in developing a sense of vocational identity. The retreat will serve as a starting point for an ongoing journey of vocational development throughout the course of the entire programme.
3. Spiritual formation: All year groups annually participate in a focused program of spiritual formation in which spiritual disciplines are practised in groups under the guidance of a spiritual mentor. These 100 days of spiritual formation seasons, conclude every year with Easter. In this programme the basic faith formation habits are practised and mastered. Consideration should be given to a weekly Seminary Eucharist where students and lecturer have communion together in a shared community in the Seminary Chapel.
The personal, spiritual and vocational formation programmes of the first two years give the student the information and skills to develop a Personal Vocational Development Plan. The development and submission of the Vocational development plan is done under the guidance of the Support Committee of each student. The Personal Vocational Development Plan must be submitted and approved at the end of the second year.
Milestone 2: CREDO
1. Identifying with reformed theology and tradition: The denominational training aims to guide students to identification with the reformed theology and a home coming in the reformed church tradition. This includes knowledge of the content and history of the four Confessions.
1. Bible/theological integration and the formation of an own theological language suitable to the context: The Faculty is responsible for the professional academic training of students. Denominational training is focussed on the integration of this knowledge with an own “language”. Spiritual leaders must be able deliver and embody a message using their own faith and theological language. They therefore need to grasp the “plot” of the gospel” and assimilate it into a language and lifestyle.
For this developmental aim every student writes a CREDO in which their academic knowledge is articulated in their own personal theological language. The CREDO must be submitted and approved at the end of the fourth year. The development of the CREDO is not an assignment written with reference to academic sources, it is rather an expression of student’s experience in ministry in their own personal theological language.
Milestone 3: Personal mastery of ministry skills
Attention is continuously paid to the practise and mastery of basic ministry skills. The congregation and mentor to whom a student is connected, reports on the student’s development and mastery of basic ministry skills. The current programme of denominational training and the students’ own vocational development plan will inform the scope of these skills. It will transform the current programme of certain “weeks” for denominational training into a more continuous practise of ministry skills and into a programme of personal mastery.
Milestone 4: Development of a new missional ministry
Contextual and missional ministry capacity: The formation of spiritual leadership also demands that students develop the ability to read their contexts with discernment and to be able to identify kingdom opportunities. This means that they will need thorough exposure to the SA context in order to develop the ability to analyse it with understanding. In the fifth and sixth years students identify a “kingdom opportunity” in the context of, and according to, this analysis. During the two years they develop this ministry in such a manner that the project can continue independently thereafter. This ministry development may not be the maintenance of an existing ministry of a congregation, but must entail the founding of a new ministry. (In the MBA environment for example students are encouraged to develop a “new start-up”) The report must be submitted and approved at the end of the sixth year for DRC students and at the end of the fifth year for URSA students. This should be viewed as the “Capstone” or closing project which concludes and integrates the formation program as at Northern Theological Seminary.
b. The Journey of Ministerial Formation takes place in a community of supportive relationships
Formation primarily takes place in relationships of trust. In the formation of spiritual leadership the student develops the following relationships:
• Congregations: Every student is “linked” to a congregation. Faculty service learning assignments can also be done in these congregations. The congregations provide the basic context within which the formation of spiritual leadership takes place. The Seminary negotiates with congregations to act as training congregations, much like there are teaching hospitals in medical training.
• Mentors: Every student has a minister or church leader who acts as mentor and with whom he/she meets regularly, preferably weekly.
• Boards of Lecturers: Lecturers serving on the Boards of Lecturers of URCSA/ DRC are linked to students.
• Fellow students: Students support one another in support groups. These groups will also function during the 100 days of faith formation.
• Support Committees: Every student has a support committee consisting of his or her mentor, a Faculty lecturer, a fellow student and an executive member of the Seminary. The committee meets once a term to discuss the student’s progress in terms of the milestones.
c. Accountability of the student
Students are responsible for their own development in terms of attaining these milestones – with the support of the abovementioned relationships.
5. A Seminary for Ministerial Formation
Denominational formation should be institutionally housed in a “seminary” representing the churches’ traditions, rhythms and outcomes. The suggestion is that the “Kweekskool” be “re”-founded according to the example of the Northern Theological Seminary of the URCSA in Pretoria. This Seminary would be a church institution functioning under the supervision of the Curatoria of URCSA and the DRC and academically accredited with the Faculty of Theology as a School of Reformed Theology (for which the Faculty regulations make provision). The Seminary should be more than an administrative link between the Denomination and the students. It must become a space of formation. The ministerial formation this memorandum envisages cannot take place in an administrative relationship with students. The students have to feel at home and safe for this formation to take place.
The Curatoria serve as governing body of the Seminary and appoint “staff” for the Seminary:
The “staff” of the Seminary can consist of the following role-players
• The Curatoria contract with ministers in synodical service and/or congregation ministers regarding serving in the Seminary in a part-time capacity.
• “Training congregations” are identified and contracted to serve as contexts for ministerial formation
• Mentors are trained and contracted
• Administrative personnel of the Curatoria render managerial and administrative services to the Seminary
6. Possible next steps
• The Curatoria consider, improve and approve the memorandum as a framework for the implementation of the programme for Supplementary Denominational Training.
• The Curatoria appoint a task team to implement the proposals with report to the Executives of the Curatoria.
• The Seminary is founded in November 2011 at a joint meeting of the Curatoria
• First students to enrol at the Seminary: January 2012
Banks, Robert, Reenvisioning Theological Training, Eerdmans 1999
Foster, Charles R (ed), Educating Clergy, Jossey-Bass 2006
Naidoo, Marilyn, An empirical study on spiritual formation at Protestant theological training institutions in South Africa (approved article for publication in Religion and Theology)
Western Theological Seminary, Formation for Ministry
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